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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Rock or Sand?

The bible (Matthew 7:24-27) relates a story about two men who built houses. One man built his house on a rock. When the rain came down, “the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” This is the wise man, the man who builds his home on a solid foundation. Not so the foolish man. He built his house on sand, and when the rain came down, “the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (NIV)

Even children relate to this story in its fairy tale form about the three little pigs (The Nursery Rhythms of England by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (London and New York, c. 1886))). One little pig built his house of straw, but the wolf blew it down and forced the pig to seek safety with his brother. The second pig built his house of sticks, but the wolf blew down that house as well. The third pig built his house of bricks and it withstood the wolf’s attack.

My purpose in relating these two stories is to bring up the issue of priorities. Recently I have observed parents on various forums ask about how to find time to practice with their child, while at the same time defining the situation so that it would appear that the parent had absolutely no time to practice. I read the parents’ questions as if they were seeking permission NOT to practice. One parent went so far as to suggest that he or she might be looking for something like an exercise program that promised “rock hard abs” in a few minutes per day.

I had to sit for a while after reading that particular parent’s situation, because I would think that most of us in the world know that it is impossible to get or build something worthwhile without putting in the time and effort that are required to get there. As much as we would all like to be thinner, stronger, faster, or better, it just is not going to happen in a short amount of time. We need to pay our dues. We need to put in the time and effort. And that is where I want to go today.

Life is all about priorities. There are many things that compete for our attention, all day and well into the night. Our job as adults and particularly as parents is to sift through all of the “stuff” and sort things according to the priorities we set. As parents, we owe it to our children to teach them this important life skill – how to set priorities. If we fail to teach this life lesson, then we are dooming our children to drift through life working to accomplish someone else’s goals.

Which house are you building? Are you situated on a rock? Do you know where you are going? Do you know what to do when things are falling apart all around you? Do you have goals? Are you putting your goals as top priority?

Or, are you situated on sand? Are you going wherever the moment takes you? Are you being buffeted by the demands of others rather than being clear about your needs and priorities and those of your family? Have you decided what is important to accomplish in your life? Do you have a plan to get there?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Luke 12:34 (NIV)

If you want to understand what your current priorities are, take a look at where you spend most of your time. Your time is your most valuable asset and gift to yourself and others. Your time is not something you can save or store up. When time is spent, it cannot be recaptured. If you waste a minute, it will be gone forever.

So look closely at where you spend your time and with what people. I think that most adults would say that they spend the biggest part of their waking day with people at work. I understand the need to make a living, but I raise the issue of how much time we should spend on making a living versus the time we spend with the things or people that matter most to us. If you are a parent, then I assume that your children and your family are your most important things in life. If that is true, then reflect on whether your life actually reveals this situation to others. Do you spend time with your family? What is your priority?

Back to the distressed parent who had to work so long in a day that the parent had no time to devote to the child’s practice. It may be that this particular parent has decided that her heart truly belongs to work. That decision is none of my business unless the parent asks for my opinion. Parents can decide how to run their lives and raise their families and I do not have to be involved in any way. I do, however, want to be sure that these parents are being truthful with themselves. If this is truly the parent’s decision and priority – to be so busy with work and other activities that there is no time left in a day for the child’s practice, even ten minutes – then I want the parent to be able to say that aloud to themselves and be able to admit that to others. Be honest. If this is your priority, then say so. Please do not try to give the rest of us the illusion that you wish things were different if you really do not.

Should the parent’s treasure be somewhere else? I hope that busy parents take some time this week to look at this issue. Find out where your heart truly is. Is it with your child? Is it with a music practice schedule that seeks to teach your child a skill that will be useful in many different areas? Or is the priority and attention directed elsewhere? Is that where you want it to be?

Here are four steps to discover where your treasure is:

Where do you spend your time?

In order to find out where your treasure is, you need only look at where you spend your time. Fill out an activity log or hourly calendar this week with every activity that you do, including work, driving time, sleeping, and watching TV. Do this for one week and you will most likely be amazed at what you discover. Of course, what you choose to do about your discovery will be interesting. Are you wasting time? Are there some activities that drain you of time? Are there different things you could do that would yield more satisfactory results with the time you choose to spend?

What do you want to accomplish?

Do you know what you want to accomplish? Do you have a set of goals or even one thing that you want to see happen this year, this semester, this summer, this month, this week, or even today? I usually have a few goals floating around each year. I have them written down. Sometimes I go through periods when I refer to them often or on a daily basis, but I find that once I have written my goals down, I usually remember them. There have been several instances when I wrote a list of goals and forgot about them only to rediscover my list later and realize that I had accomplished everything on the list. I believe that writing down your list of goals is the key to accomplishing them.

The purpose of having a list of goals or any goal is that you will be more in control of how you spend your time. You will be more aware of when others take you away from your goal path and when and what activities drink up the time you could spend on your goal plan. Think about what you want to accomplish.

I use my iPhone exclusively for scheduling, however, at the beginning of every week I take a few minutes to write my schedule out by hand on a day planner, which my father sends me for Christmas every year from the Smithsonian. The planner serves two purposes for me: (1) I get a “global” view of the week to come, and (2) I can quickly see where I have pockets of available time to accomplish things related to my goals. I scribble a few items that need to be finished during the week, such as paying particular bills or calling the car dealership to schedule a car servicing. I use tiny post-it notes and stick these items on the days when I think I might have the best chance of completing the task. Another use from the calendar is that it is then available for anyone in my household to glance at and find out where I might be at a particular time. This helps my husband to figure out when I am at symphony rehearsal in the evening.

Most of you may recall that I fill out a tiny sheet of paper (3.5” x 5.5”) with my daily to do list. My goal is to accomplish six activities per day, although my list may be longer than that. If I have to be somewhere, that place is put on my list because it is something I need to do. I use the back side of the to do list to capture notes about the day, including future items that will need my attention, phone numbers of calls to be made, or even writing topics.

How will you reach your goal?

Do you have a plan? Having a list of goals is a great step, but developing a plan to reach those goals is an even stronger step. Figure out what steps need to be taken and in what order. I use a project notebook to jot down ideas related to my goals, but any notebook or legal pad would do. I devote a page of the notebook for each project idea I might consider. Then I pull out one project sheet at a time and carry it around with me. I jot additional ideas down on my project sheet, and sometimes I turn them into lists of action items.

Get Started!

Remember the Nike slogan, “Just Do It!” This is the best advice I can ever give to any parent or student. My other favorite unspoken part of the slogan is, “stop whining,” or as I like to tell my university students, “stop why-ning” (Why do I have to play scales? Why do I have to go to this concert? Why? Why? Why?). Yup, stop the "why-ning" and just get started! The time it takes to think of creative excuses is time that you could use for something more productive, like practicing with your child!

I hope that my readers will take some time this week to consider where their hearts truly are and what treasure they seek to find. Are your priorities built on rock or sand?

For your amusement, here is a very short movie of one of my students at her most entertaining. She was showing me how she had combined elements of Twinkle Theme and May Song together with a few other surprises, but she encountered a problem. Enjoy!

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